Pau Gasol lacks the forceful personality and handsome features that made Magic Johnson such an icon in Los Angeles. What Johnson didn't have, though, was Gasol's wonderful post game.
Gasol may not be George Clooney in a jersey, but his interior offensive play offers a lesson in beauty.
Their two-man pick-and-roll game caused fits for the Phoenix defense. The scorekeeper should have prematurely awarded LA two points, just to save everyone time, whenever Gasol showed the high screen.
Pau made the right move on each offensive series, either rolling off the initial contact and beating the defensive switch by at least a step, or flashing to the bucket after recognizing that Phoenix had overcommitted to the pick.
His signature post move, where with the ball slightly above chest level he shows left, spins right, and shoots with the left hand high, also worked wonders in Game Two.
Gasol clinched the contest with an array of uncontested lay-ups and baby left hooks. He benefited from a handful of Bryant's spot-on passes. But Gasol consistently found the right spot.
It's a recurring theme in his game.
With his stellar performance on Wednesday, Gasol finally enjoyed the solo spotlight for the first time in his Lakers tenure. While he's always received justified credit for pushing LA from a run-of-the-mill club to a championship contender, Pau has rarely dominated the closing minutes of a close game in such a primetime atmosphere.
Blame Kobe for being too good of a closer, I guess.
As the Lakers closed to within two games of their third consecutive Western Conference championship, all with Gasol roaming the low block, the national viewing audience finally observed a loud showing from the passionate player. It was a showcase worth discussing around the office, or at the gym, or on campus the next day.
“Damn, that Pau Gasol can play basketball,” they’d say. Truth is, throughout the headline filled 2010 NBA playoffs, the man has softly been plugging along at an MVP-caliber pace.
Gasol’s basketball IQ on a given night is better than most point guard’s on a career night. If you cloned his brain, and sent four other position players with the same mental makeup on the floor, hardwood fans would never turn the channel.
It’d be a lovely show, filled with a smorgasbord of crisp passes to backdoor cutters, leading to effortless bucket after effortless bucket. The back to the basket play and splendid ball movement would make any coach, from pee wee to the pros, rewind the action and hit record on the DVR.
You couldn’t teach such precision without a visual aid.
Gasol is a superstar, though his team oriented game sometimes fails to get the point across. There’s no stat line for the heady passes and great positioning that make life easier for other scorers.
Pau never misses a slasher and rarely forces the issue with the ball in his grasp. He’s an interior jack of all trades-calculated but often flashy, patient but quick to spot the open cutter. While the talent is pure, his postseason play has been even richer.
Gasol’s second season stat line, 21-12-4 on 58 percent shooting, looks pretty darn good from the outset. Dig deeper and you’ll find that he posted four straight double-doubles going head-to-head with Carlos Boozer in LA’s lopsided, second round series sweep over Utah.
He’s shot under 50 percent in just one of the Lakers’ 12 playoff games. He made up for that rocky 47 minutes and 59.5 seconds by tipping in a Bryant miss, in the right position once again, for a series clinching win against Oklahoma.
The general public knew Gasol, along with fellow tree Andrew Bynum, caused nightmare problems for opposing coaches. The public also knew that Pau could play.
But they didn’t know he could dominate. Surprises can be fun to witness.
The bullet points of his excellent 2010 playoff resume (series clinching bucket, manhandling Boozer, and picking apart a Suns team everyone had come to fear) stacks up well against any ball player’s recent body of work.
If not for Rajon Rondo’s well-rounded masterpieces and Bryant’s consecutive scoring flurries, Gasol would be the toast of the playoffs.
If he keeps up this extremely high level of play, Gasol could hoist a Finals MVP trophy sometime next month. As part of the honor, he’ll have to give a postgame speech on the platform as confetti showered the court.
Pau will probably make that look easy, too.